Nobel art in Detroit

May 11, 2005 at 12:00 am

What does Detroit’s inner city have in common with a remote and semi-arid village in India, and the Nobel Peace Center in Norway?

Internationally known environmental artist Marjetica Potrc.

Last year Potrc won a Nobel Peace Center contest for her plan to build a system of windmills and greenery on the Nobel Center’s roof. But the Oslo government said no to Potrc’s proposal, so she devised a plan to export the project, choosing to do her thing at Barefoot College in India and Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit.

At Barefoot, a remarkable community school in a poor desert area, Potrc and the students installed solar panels that now power the college’s computers. In Detroit, Potrc enlisted students to install a small solar panel and a little gray windmill atop Catherine Ferguson’s bright red barn.

Catherine Ferguson is located in an impoverished neighborhood off Martin Luther King Boulevard, near I-96. It’s a Detroit public school for teen mothers and pregnant girls run by the charismatic scholar Aseneth Andrews.

In addition to the school’s main focus — placing teen moms in college and teaching them life skills along with academics — the academy also runs a full-fledged farm under the direction of science teacher Paul Weertz. Beside the student-built barn is a large field for horses, goats, chickens, a sheep and other animals, surrounded by lush gardens belonging to individual students, a beehive and a fruit orchard. The windmill and solar panel installed by Potrc will power the barn and farm tools.

Once there, you might ask yourself: I see the value of the windmill and solar panel for educating high-schoolers, but is it art? If you say art must be beautiful, then Potrc’s project will not qualify. She isn’t interested in aesthetics as much as she is moved by the intersection of people and technology, architecture and design.

As she installed the system and met with students at Catherine Ferguson, Potrc was enthusiastic. “This school is fantastic, amazing,” Potrc says. “We are totally inspired by Paul Weertz. The school is a model for the community. They teach by example the issues related to life. They are going back to the basics. We have to go back to the basics.

“The windmill offers hands-on educational empowerment for the students. They’ve demystified the technology. Anyone can do this. Everyone can do it.”


To see Potrc’s work, visit

Lisa M. Collins is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]